Should the Government Try To Modify What We Eat

Should the Government Try To Modify What We Eat?

The issue of the provision of food to low-income U.S. citizens through welfare programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is extremely controversial. This program is funded through the taxpayers’ money and beneficiaries can buy food from grocery stores using an Electronics Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. There are conflicting opinions on whether this program is sufficiently regulated to ensure that the recipients purchase healthy foods and to reduce incidents of fraud. There has been a rising rate of fraud in the SNAP program and taxpayers are worried that the program is not serving its intended purpose. Cases of fraud, abuse and waste in the SNAP program are particularly of great concern to the taxpayers. Fraudulent practices in the SNAP program include the sale of EBT cards, exchange of cards for drugs and the purchase of groceries and sale in other countries. Therefore, there is a need for the state to prevent fraud, abuse and waste in the SNAP program through enforcing the requirement to use government identity cards while buying food. This will help to regulate individuals who can access and use the program and ensure that only the people eligible for the program benefit from it.

Giving or Selling EBT Cards to Non-Recipients

There is a need for strict government regulation to curb fraud because some SNAP recipients are giving their EBT cards to individuals who are not beneficiaries of the program (Tanner, 2013). Some of them are turning the SNAP benefits into cash by selling them. This practice is fraudulent and it undermines the main goal of the SNAP program, which is to ensure that low-income families and individuals have access to food. Recipients who exchange their EBT cards for money deprive themselves of the nutritional benefits provided by the program (Nilsen, 2006).

Some of the recipients are placing advertisements for the sale of SNAP cards on internet sites such as eBay. Some of the beneficiaries who are selling their cards may have found employment and no longer need to depend on the SNAP program. Others may be selling their cards to get money for buying items, which cannot be acquired using the cards such as alcoholic beverages, nonfood household supplies, and medicines (Long & Hiltz, 2012). The SNAP program should be regulated using government identity cards since currently, the EBT cards can be used by anyone with the PIN number. There is no photograph on the EBT card and therefore, it is easy to give or sell it to non-recipients. Requiring the use of a government ID for identification when using the EBT cards will ensure that only the legitimate recipients can access the program. Moreover, creating EBT cards with the name and photograph of the recipient can help in reducing fraud. The government needs to collaborate with store managers to ensure that they decline to serve individuals who try to make purchases without their identity cards or with EBT cards that do not belong to them. They can then report them to the relevant authorities so that they can be punished accordingly. Through this strategy, the sale of EBT cards as well as their use by persons other than the legitimate beneficiaries will be curbed.

The recipients who sell or give their EBT cards to non-recipients normally pretend to have lost them and then ask for a replacement. Requests for SNAP card replacements need to be investigated to help in curbing fraud. Fraud in the SNAP program makes it difficult for the program to benefit the deserving families (Ray & Schaffer, 2012). The state should take appropriate steps not only to investigate and punish those involved but should also try to prevent the problem by insisting on the use of identity cards by the eligible individuals. The recipients of SNAP who also take part in fraudulent activities should be disqualified from the program. The misuse and abuse of the program also needs to be curbed. Some recipients sell their SNAP benefits to get money and this practice is illegal (Nilsen, 2006). Those found guilty should be prosecuted while retail stores involved in the practice should be disqualified.

Trading EBT Cards for Drugs

Moreover, there is an urgent need for proper regulation of the SNAP program since there is an alarming trend of trading EBT cards for drugs by drug addicts. Drug addicts are trading their EBT cards for cocaine, marijuana and oxycodone. This trend is rising owing to the ease of EBT card replacement. The recipients just have to report the loss of their cards and wait to be issued with new ones. After exchanging their cards for drugs, the cardholders apply for a new one. Increasing cases of lost or stolen EBT cards in states such as Ohio may be a clear indication of the gravity of fraud in the SNAP program. Every year, Ohio replaces over 200,000 cards, which are reported to have been lost. This may be because of misuse and trafficking of the SNAP benefits.

Drug users trade their cards to get illicit drugs as well as money to support their drug habits. EBT cards are given to drug dealers who offer drugs in exchange and then ask for the replacement of the card. Cards are easily exchanged for drugs because the only security feature required for one to use it is a personal identification number. Failure to include the photographs of the cardholders makes it easy to sell the cards and exchange them for drugs. EBT cardholders collude with store managers or owners who overcharge them for their goods on the card and give them cash (Nilsen, 2006). This cash is mostly used to buy drugs. Other drug users use the EBT cards in casinos, strip clubs as well as to buy movies and get tattoos, cigarettes and alcohol (Tanner, 2013).

Cases of fraud in the use of EBT cards are common in almost every state.  Fraudulent exchanges between retail stores and EBT cardholders costing the SNAP program over $700,000 were uncovered in Arizona. In Colorado, EBT transactions in casinos, strip clubs and liquor stores are common. Several stores in Florida in 2012 were responsible for EBT fraud worth $2 million as they allowed the cardholders to buy cigarettes and liquor at high prices and kept the profits. Other stores buy the EBT cards and use them to make real or imaginary purchases after which they are reimbursed for the card (Ray & Schaffer, 2012). In Massachusetts, some stores connect EBT cardholders with cocaine dealers and buy their cards at low prices. Therefore, this is a very grave problem, which needs to be urgently addressed by the government. It is not fair that the taxpayers’ money is used to fund the drug business. Therefore, enforcing a system where the cardholders are required to produce their identity cards in order to make purchases would reduce the cases of exchanging cards for drugs. This is because the drug dealers would not be able to use cards, which do not belong to them.

Shipping SNAP Groceries Overseas for Resale

Another fraudulent practice by some EBT cardholders is that they buy groceries and ship them to other countries where they are resold (Tanner, 2013). These groceries are shipped to countries such as Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. The cardholders buy groceries using EBT cards and pack them in big barrels so that they can be transported to other countries. Some of the SNAP benefits recipients claim that they send the food to their relatives since it is cheaper and of higher quality than what is available in those countries. Therefore, they continue with their fraudulent activities while pretending to be helping their poor relatives in other countries. These relatives consume some of the food and the rest is hawked on the streets to gain profits. This is not fair to the American taxpayers who contribute to the SNAP program since it is meant for feeding the needy American citizens and not for sale in other countries to make profits (Long & Hiltz, 2012).

Some of the commonest items shipped from the U.S. and sold on the streets in the Dominican Republic include baby formula, Frosted Flakes and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. These products are more expensive in the Dominican supermarkets that in the U.S. The street traders sell the shipped goods at a lower price than that in the supermarkets. These goods are on high demand in the Dominican streets since they are cheaper and of a higher quality than the ones manufactured in the country. EBT cardholders also collaborate with grocers who conduct fraudulent transactions with the ETB cards and give them cash. The cash obtained from grocers is used on nonfood items and alcohol and some is sent to relatives abroad. Alcohol and cigarettes are also bought using EBT cards and resold on the streets. Therefore, the SNAP program is clearly not serving its purpose of providing food to the needy U.S. citizens but has been used to conduct fraudulent businesses. The recipients turn most of the SNAP benefits into money. This money ends up funding other activities that are not covered by the SNAP program.

Conclusion

It is evident that fraud is rampant in the SNAP program and there is a need for the government to intervene and ensure that the taxpayers’ money goes into the right use. Most fraudulent activities in the SNAP program arise from the use of the EBT cards for illegal purposes such as giving them to non-recipients, trading them for drugs, and using them to purchase groceries and shipping them overseas for resale on the streets. Therefore, to prevent fraud, abuse, waste, and ensure that the legitimate recipients benefit from the program, states should enforce the use of government identity cards in the purchase of food. This will ensure that the rightful owners of the EBT cards will be the only ones who can access SNAP benefits. Fraudsters will be deterred since they will not be able to use cards that do not belong to them to make purchases.

References

Long, B., & Hiltz, K. (2012). Social Safety Net or Social Hammock? Internet Journal of Criminology, 1-23.

Nilsen, S. (2006). Food Stamp Trafficking: FNS Could Enhance Program Integrity by Better Targeting Stores Likely to Traffic and Increasing Penalties: GAO-07-53. GAO Reports, 1-36.

Ray, D. E., & Schaffer, H. D. (2012). Categorical eligibility for food stamps: Its origin and adoption by states. Southwest Farm Press, 39(23), 2-18.

Tanner, M. D. (2013). SNAP Failure: The Food Stamp Program Needs Reform. Policy Analysis.

 

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